Waiting to Happen: HIV/AIDS in South Africa-The Bigger Picture

Article excerpt

HEALTH & DISEASE Liz Walker, Graeme Reid, and Morna Cornell. Waiting to Happen: HIV/AIDS in South Africa-The Bigger Picture. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2004. 143 pp. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $25.00. Paper.

This book is the product of a historic conference, "AIDS in Context," which was held in April 2001 at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. However, Waiting to Happen is not simply a compilation of the presentations at the conference. Instead, the authors have selectively utilized new findings, different perspectives, and emerging trends to produce an extraordinary array of factual information to alert the public as to the ravages and repercussions of one of humanity's greatest challenges.

One of the noteworthy aspects of Waiting to Happen is the discussion of the role of traditional healers and their use of herbs, a role potentially as important as that of medical doctors and antiretroviral drugs in treating HIV and AIDS. Not surprisingly, there is considerable optimism, especially among sangoma, the faith healers who deal with spirits, and inyanga, healers who use herbs. The stereotyping of these persons as "unprofessional" was evident in July 2000 when traditional healers demanded recognition at the international AIDS conference in Durban. It is vital that these "healers" be properly educated about the transmission and treatment of the disease to prevent exploitation by charlatans, all the more necessary since the majority of persons infected seek treatment in the first instance from such nonmedical personnel and risk being misled by them. Interestingly, the use of traditional or herbal medicines as a viable treatment is being explored by a medical school in South Africa.

An undercurrent of hope is evident throughout the study. The authors argue that with the correct drugs and nutrition, HIV could be "a chronic, manageable infection" and the dreaded AIDS "a treatable disease" (8). Nevertheless, they fail to enunciate clearly who would be responsible for the fight against HIV and AIDS, and how more funding might be obtained. With resources scarce, should priority be given to children or adults? Conflicting stories on remedies and prevention serve to confuse people seeking treatment and complicate the campaign against HIV/AIDS. While public health campaigns strongly advocate the use of condoms, some religious groups and individuals believe this encourages promiscuity. An illustration of ignorance contributing to the spread of the disease is the church leader who declared, "'for AIDS I blame the government. …

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